The Muslim immigrant population in Italy presents several differences from the Muslim populations in other European countries. In other areas of Europe, Muslims first immigrated as part of guest worker programs after World War II, when these countries were looking for laborers and skilled workers, particularly from one of their colonies. Therefore, these Muslims were always considered “guests” and “temporary workers” by a large percentage of the European population.
In Italy, on the other hand, Muslims did not come as temporary workers. Rather, they came as students or educated workers. Thus, in Italy, there are no clusters of immigrant Islamic communities like in other European countries, and the religion became visible as the first immigrants arrived in Italy. Italy had no predominantly Islamic colonies from which to draw skilled workers, so their Muslim population has immigrated from a wide range of countries, which usually view Islam as a dominant social and cultural force. This also means that Italy does not treat their Muslim immigrants in terms of a foreign policy, like other European countries.
In Italy, all other religions besides the Catholic church may have an “Intesa” with the Italian government, an agreement between the religion and Italian state that formally recognizes the religion and provides certain juridical and economic benefits. The Italian government is not obligated or incentivized to form an Intesa with various religions; rather, the duty lies with the religious community. Though other religions have signed an Intesa, the Muslim community has not been able to obtain one with the Italian government.
This is for several reasons. First, most Muslims are not Italian citizens, and cultural differences help to “enhance the alien image of Islam” even further than their immigrant status alone. Thus, there is already less incentive for the Italian government to come to an agreement with Muslims, and some Italians even view Muslims as “enemies” that do not deserve the legal privileges an Intesa would provide. Additionally, the community is still in the process of becoming fully established in Italy, and several different organizations are currently vying for power as the organization to represent Islam in Italy.
The lack of Intesa with the Italian government is just one example showcasing the difficulty for Muslims to integrate into European society, and other examples have been cited in previous blog posts. In his 2016 article “Why the US doesn’t have a Muslim problem, and Europe does,” Naveed Jamali, the son of Pakistani immigrants to the US, states that he believes Muslims in the US integrate better than their European counterparts.
While this may be for several reasons, one big reason might be the reason for immigration to each continent. For example, Muslims began immigrating to Europe after World War II when countries were looked for skilled workers and laborers. These people were generally less educated and in a lower economic class than native Europeans, making it difficult to integrate and to fit in with the rest of the population. Subsequent generations stay stuck in this cycle of low education and low income. Additionally, a certain bias against these less educated immigrants likely existed for Europeans.
On the other hand, Muslim immigrants to the US are generally very well educated, as they likely came to the US on work or student visas. The Muslim community in the US is actually the 2nd most educated group. Muslims in the US are integrated in society and demonstrate similar activities and participation in the community as Americans.
Jamali, however, may have some biases on the issue of integration. He states that his father moved to the US on a Fulbright scholarship, opened a successful business, and raised two sons who felt very much American despite their father’s immigrant status. In parallel, his uncle moved to Germany, where he worked as an engineer for the German Space Agency. Neither he nor his sons, however, felt fully “German.” These real-life examples of integration issues have likely influenced his opinion.
Since the publication of this article, we have seen a lot of hype in the media and during the election about refugees coming to the US and Germany. Many refugees, who are often less educated than Muslim immigrants from previous decades, have been allowed to enter the US. This has sometimes resulted in a clash of cultures and a fear from some Americans that these Muslims are terrorists. Thus, public opinion of Muslims and other foreigners has changed slightly since this article was published.